Thursday, December 29, 2011

Lest We Forget

Has it really been five years?

December 29th is a day that will always cause me to stop and reflect, give thanks for the many blessings in my life, and say a special prayer--a prayer for the Holtz and Higgins families and prayer for all my Mighty MSP shipmates who share my heartache on this day every year. I would never wish such an experience upon anyone, but having lived through it with the images painfully burned into my memory, I hope it makes me a better naval officer and leader to have experienced such a tremendous loss. I feel I owe it to COB Higgins and Petty Officer Holtz.

For background, please see this post.  Also, last year's post had a video put together by an MSP shipmate.

Sailors, Rest Your Oars.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Great Wolf Lodge, Grand Mound, WA

Hey folks!  Posting has been light because I haven't been around much to write.  This year I'm thankful to be home with my family for the holidays though.  My wonderful wife said she wanted to go someplace warm during the holiday stand-down.  Unfortunately, our passports are out-of-date / expired, so that ruled out a lot of places.  I checked around a bit and we could have gone to Hawaii, but that was gonna cost us my right arm and her left leg plus our first born son.  Instead, we settled for a visit to the Great Wolf Lodge about 90 minutes south of here in Grand Mound, WA.

In case you aren't familiar with the Great Wolf Lodge, it's a big indoor waterpark-hotel.  It's not overly crowded and the lines are never very long because the number of people in the waterpark is limited by the occupancy of the hotel (you aren't allowed in the waterpark if you aren't staying at the hotel).  It's fun for all ages - they have water slides and sections of park for wee-itty-bitty toddlers all the way up to adult-size scary swashbucklers.  (Please note:  Nobody at GWL is paying me anything to write this blog post - these are my honest opinions.)

The room rates might seem a little high for a simple hotel room, but it's important to realize that paying for ONE night in the GWL gets you admission to the indoor waterpark for TWO days (both the day you check-in AND the day you check-out.  At any other major waterpark, we would have spent way more money for 8 admission tickets x 2 days than we spend for one night stay at the GWL.  Oh, and they have a pretty good military discount, too (use promo code "HEROES").

We had previously visited the Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City during one of our drives across country.  We also went to the Great Wolf Lodge in Williamsburg, VA for my younger son's birthday a few years ago.  (You can click on those links to read the previous posts and see pictures from those visits.)

There were some nice changes this time around.  Last time when we visited the Williamsburg GWL, I really liked the waterproof RFID bracelets you use instead of a room key.  Now, they've taken that a step farther and linked the RFID chip in your bracelet to your credit card, so you don't need your wallet the entire time you're there.  Just swipe your wrist band at the cash register in the restaurant, the bar, or the gift shop and they charge it to your room.  Oh, but don't worry - the kids' wrist bands do NOT link to the credit card, so they can't go hog-wild in the ice cream parlor, arcade, and gift shop without you there.

Another pleasant change from our previous GWL visits was the food options.  This time around, there were two restaurants in the lobby, the snack bar in the waterpark, plus you could order pizza to pick up and take back to your room.  We never waited more than about 10 minutes for a table, the service was decent (not excellent, but friendly and eager to please), and the prices were reasonable (NOT Disney prices - I thought the prices were comparable to most restaurants here in the Kitsap area).

We did the MagiQuest thing again (see the Williamsburg post for a description of that).  They've now made it so you can register the MagiQuest wands in teams, so you can work on the quests together instead of each child having to tap each clue as you go around the hotel. 

Last time, I noted that the uniform of the day at the GWL for kids was either (a) swimwear or (b) pajamas.  Pretty much everyone spends the day in swimsuits, then goes back to their room to shower and put on pajamas and goes to dinner in one of the hotel restaurants.  This time, I noted that it wasn't just the kids.  There were several adults wearing pajamas going to dinner, too.  (That'll be me next time I go.) 

My only disappointment this time was that there is NO lazy river at the Grand Mound GWL.  That was one of our favorite parts about our previous two GWL visits.  We would do the waterslides for a while, and after we got tired of climbing the steps to the slides, we'd take a leisurely float around the lazy river to relax. 

Not here.

As a result, our routine at the Grand Mound GWL ended up something like this:
- MagiQuest (lots of climbing stairs inside the hotel searching for clues that could be hidden on any of 5 floors)
- Yellow slide for a warmup (I think there are 4 levels of slides at this GWL - the wee toddler size being level 1, the yellow and red slides on the fortress with the big bucket on top being level 2, then the blue and green slides being level 3, then the big insane tornado slide at level 4).
- Green slide, green slide, green slide (70 steps up each time - yes, I counted)
- Blue slide, blue slide, blue slide (another 70 steps up each time)
- Wave pool (sorta like being at the beach with an artificial wave-generator)
- Green slide, blue slide, green slide, blue slide
- Break time, more MagiQuest... climbing the inside stairs instead of the waterslide stairs
- Wave pool
- Blue slide, green slide, blue slide, green slide
- About this time my legs felt like jello and my knees gave out, so we called it quits for the day and went to get cleaned up and get some dinner.

Why did I run 3 miles on the treadmill that morning before going to the GWL?  Note to self:  Going to GWL is like spending two days on the stairmaster, so don't worry about exercising the morning you leave.

Overall, we had a great time, and we totally got our money's worth.  It's a nice getaway not too far from home for those of you in the Kitsap area (or Seattle or Portland for that matter). 

Monday, October 10, 2011


8 homes.

7 moves (all at least 3,000 miles across country if not across an ocean) - 8 if you count moving from Boston to Groton when we got married.

5 deployments (3 to WESTPAC, 1 to CENTCOM, and 1 to EUCOM)

1 Change of Homeport (huge pain in the arse those are)

2 weeks after our first son was born, we were packed up in the car driving across country

3 days after our second son was born, I was recalled off of baby leave to go to sea because another boat broke.

13 years since my wonderful wife and I were married in Boston.

Happy Anniversary, Sweetie!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Olympic National Park - Staircase Rapids Hike

The weather sure has been spectacularly beautiful here in the Pacific Northwest over the past several weeks.  I've been itching to get outside and enjoy the natural beauty of summertime in Washington, but we've been busy digging out of the sea of cardboard boxes and making frequent trips to Home Depot for home improvement projects.  (I really should buy stock in Home Depot.)

We finally achieved a sufficient level of comfort in being "settled in" to invite friends over for a barbecue a week ago Sunday.  Having reached that milestone, we finally took Saturday to head for the hills. 

During my first visit to Olympic National Park (ONP) back in June, I picked up the Falcon Guide to Best Easy Day Hikes Olympic National Park.  The first hike listed in the guide is Staircase Rapids.  It's listed as a 2 mile hike with only 200 feet of elevation gain, so I figured it would be a good hike to do with the boys.  Plus, it's only open in the summertime, so I wanted to give it a try. 

Now, in most national parks, the NPS website is pretty detailed and informative.  I've been a little disappointed with the ONP website.  ONP, as I mentioned in my previous blog post, is bigger than the state of Rhode Island.  There are half a dozen or more different places in the park you can visit with different climates, ecosystems, trails, and things to do.  Each one of those places deserves a unique page and pamphlet, but they just have one web page, one map, one pamphlet for the whole park.  To wit, when we drove up to the Staircase Ranger Station, the Park Ranger handed us the exact same ONP pamphlet that I got up at the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center in June.  While it's nice to have a map of the ENTIRE park for general reference in choosing which part of the park to go visit, it would be useful to have more detailed information at each of the ranger stations or visitor centers.  There are certainly dozens of others of websites with photos and guides for visiting different spots in ONP, but with so many to choose from, it takes time to sort through and figure out which ones are worth a darn. 

Lake Cushman

To get to Staircase Rapids, you go to Hoodsport, WA, and there will be the standard brown roadsigns telling you where to turn to head up to Lake Cushman and the Staircase Ranger Station.  I was rather surprised that there were a few miles of dusty, bumpy dirt road along the way.

Once we got to the federal property line and the ONP sign though, the road was paved again.

Time stamp - departing the Ranger Station.

While there isn't a visitor's center per se, but the Ranger Station does have the standard National Park stamp and some books and small souvenirs for sale.  (Note:  They only take cash.) 

It used to be a loop-hike that would take you up one side of the Skokomish River, cross a bridge, then down the other side of the river back to the Ranger Station.  However, the bridge is washed out, so for now it's just an out-and-back along one side or the other. 

We crossed this bridge that is still intact right next to the ranger station and hiked up the west side of the river.

This baffled me.  There were no fewer than a half dozen "no pets" signs at the park entrance, in the parking lot, at the ranger station, and TWO signs here at the trailhead.  Yet, no sooner did we walk past these signs, a family passed us and headed up the trail with two dogs.  What the heck?

Another thing that surprised me was to see people walking back toward the Ranger Station in wet bathing suits and wrapped in towels like they had just gotten out of the water.  Sure enough, we got upstream aways and saw a spot where people were jumping off a large rock into a swirling pool of colgate-blue water.  I didn't go down to feel how cold it was, but I figure that water's gotta be frigid snow-runoff.

The still photos of the Staircase Rapids don't do it justice.  When you look at this photo, imagine a tremendously loud roaring noise as gajillions of gallons of water crash around these rocks and carve their way down the valley toward Lake Cushman.

The old-growth forest that the river cuts through is beautiful.

7-year old YB on top of the roots of the tree.

Overall, it was a very nice family hike.  I'm not sure it was quite good enough to justify the long drive out there, but I was very glad to get out of the house with my family and enjoy the beauty of ONP again before summer sneaks away.

Hike Stats:
Date: 30 July 2011
Start Time:  2:59 p.m.
Moving Time Elapsed:  49 min
Stopped Time Elapsed:  23 min
Finish Time:  4:11 p.m.
Miles:  2.8 miles
Elevation gain: 98 feet
Temp:  Forgot to write it down.  It was low-70's, and we were all in shorts and t-shirts.
Wind:  None.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Paddle Log #24: Port Gamble, WA

Back in Virginia, I normally followed the 120-rule for kayaking.  The 120-rule states that the air temperature plus the water temperature have to add up to at least 120F in order to go kayaking without cold weather gear like a wetsuit.  The 120-rule is generally satisfied from around May to September there.

Not here.

Looking at the historic water temperatures around here, it's typically in the 50s, so it requires some pretty warm air temperature (above 70) to meet the same 120 rule, and that doesn't seem to happen all that often, either.  I think maybe about a month from mid-July to mid-August.  I picked up a book about kayaking in the Pacific Northwest, and I noted in the introduction that they refer to the 100-rule.  Mmm-hmmm.

MWR here at Naval Base Kitsap (NBK) offers a lot of great outdoor activities.  Actually, I think they call it Fleet & Family Readiness (FFR) here.  Whenever I go kayaking someplace for the first time, I prefer to go with someone else who has been before and is familiar with the area and the hazards.  The Pacific Edge Outfitters on the Bangor Sub Base offers everything you could possibly need to rent for any outdoor recreation.  They also have regular organized trips, like a Wednesday night paddle.

That's another odd thing about Kitsap versus Virginia...  the time of sunset.  We're so far north in latitude here, it's 9:30 p.m. and I can still see orange sky above the Olympic Mountains out my family room window.  Combine that with the fact that the warmest time of the day tends to be in the late afternoon when the sun has burnt off the fog and clouds, and it makes for some pretty nice evening kayaking.

Last night, my boys and I went with the FFR Wednesday evening paddle to Port Gamble.  Each of these Wednesday night paddles have met up at Pacific Edge Outfitters at 5 p.m. and plan to be back to Pacific Edge around 9 p.m.  We met up there and caravaned up to Salsbury Point Park just north of the Hood Canal Bridge.

Suit up!  On the beach at Salsbury Point Park
getting ready to head out onto Hood Canal.

This was the first time kayaking for the boys this year.  I was glad that my younger son's rain pants still fit.  My eldest son has outgrown his rain pants, but his kayak has a lip that is able to use a kayak skirt, so we used one of the kayak skirts from Pacific Edge Outfitters.  It did a great job keeping the water out of ES's cockpit and he was very pleased to stay dry and comfortable from start to finish. 

YB seemed dry and comfortable for the duration of the evening, too.

Paddling on Hood Canal north of the bridge.
(Hood Head in the background)

From Salsbury Point Park, we paddled east along the shore past the small town of Port Gamble and around the old lumber mill.  The Port Gamble Sawmill was the oldest mill in the country when it closed down in 1995.

We had a very nice paddle around the sawmill and back.  We saw one bald eagle on top of the sawmill, a couple of bluejays and guillemot pigeons, plus 3 harbor seals.  We looked for a family of otters that supposedly live to the south of the sawmill, but we didn't see any.

My youngest son took this photo of the bald eagle on top of the sawmill.

Heading back toward the Hood Canal Bridge.

Stats for the paddle log:
  • Date: 27 July 2011
  • Time In: 6:03 p.m.
  • Time Out: Approx 8:09 p.m.
  • Elapsed:  2 hrs 6 min
  • Moving Time (GPS): 1 hour 56 min
  • Stopped Time (GPS):  10 min
  • Mileage (GPS): 4.28 miles
  • Sea State: 1
  • Winds: 5-10 kts NW
  • Air Temp:  68F dropping to 62F
  • Water Temp: 60F
  • Current:  Slack water at beginning, rising to 0.4 kt flood current at 1900.
  • Gauge Height:  N/A.
  • Avg Speed (GPS):  2.2 mph
  • Max Speed by (GPS):  5.0 mph
  • Rapids?  None. 
  • Hazards?  Wake from passing boats, chop from the wind.
  • Kit: Ocean Kayak Malibu Two XL (my youngest son and I), Perception Acadia Scout (eldest son).  Ballcap, NRS paddling gloves, short sleeve shirt, NRS paddling pants, neoprene booties.  Youngest son wore his rain pants and NRS neoprene socks.  Eldest son had outgrown his rain pants from last year.  He wore swim trunks and his NRS neoprene socks, but he used a skirt from Pacific Edge Outfitters and it kept him dry.  He complained he was getting cold about half way through, so he put on his jacket.  I brought both boys' jackets in the center storage compartment of my kayak.
  • Configuration: YB in front, me in the middle seat.  ES in his own kayak.
  • Route:  Put-in at Salsbury Point Park, east around Port Gamble and back (see Garmin Connect below).
  • Other comments (such as wildlife spotted): Bald eagle, blue jays, guillemot pigeons, seagulls, 3 harbor seals.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Guillemot Cove Nature Reserve

This post is a little delayed.  I've been a bit busy with my family arriving from Virginia, moving into a new house, having our household goods (HHG) delivered, and trying to dig ourselves out of the sea of cardboard boxes.

The weekend before my family arrived, I went for a very nice walk through the Guillemot Cove Nature Reserve.  Sitting here now, looking at that website for the nature reserve, the photos don't look very exciting, and I probably wouldn't have gone out of my way to go there.  Actually, I ended up there sort of by accident, but I'm very glad I did.

In searching for a new park to explore, I was just scrolling around Google Maps looking at the green spots that represent a park of some sort.  I noticed Stavis Creek and read a bit on the web about the wildlife that can be seen in this park, so I actually went in search of Stavis Creek.  I tried to get at it from a couple of different approaches, but I kept running into private property and no trespassing signs and turning away.  It didn't bother me though, because I was enjoying the drive around the countryside.  I ended up driving by the Guillemot Cove Nature Reserve sign purely by accident.  I needed to get out and stretch my legs, so I stopped to check it out.  (Post Facto Comment:  I eventually found out how to get into Stavis Creek, but it wasn't until after I had finished my walk in Guillmot Cove and it was way past time for lunch.)

The trails are well-defined and easy to follow.  There are a couple of trails to choose from, but they all lead down to the cove.  Unfortunately, you don't get a trail map until you get to the bottom.

Down at the bottom of the hill near the actual cove, there is an information kiosk with a map of the property and the trails.

At the bottom of the hill, I discovered the trail to the cove itself was washed out, and I wasn't wearing shoes for trudging through the marshy bog.  Even so, there are a couple of loop trails going off into the woods along a gurgling stream.

There's an old abandoned house and barn at the bottom of the hill.  There are signs posted on the barn that the structure isn't safe for entry.

During my walk through the nature reserve, I heard beautiful bird songs that were unfamiliar to me.  The birds I saw were too fast for my camera, and I'm not very good at identifying them.  The only one I readily recognized was a beautiful red-headed woodpecker.

There were flowers of every shape and color imaginable.  Everywhere I turned, there were beautiful pink rhododendrons in bloom, plus an abundance of little yellow buttercups closer to the ground. 

I kept seeing these berries, and I wasn't sure what they were.

Then I saw this flower and remembered looking up the name of the flower after my Green Mountain hike, and it was called salmonberry.

Ahhhh, it all makes sense now!  Salmonberry!

This one was new to me - American Starflower (Trientalis borealis).

This was also new to me - Nootka Rose (rosa nutkana).

This was the first time I had seen Foxglove.  Since then, I've seen it along the side of the road just about everywhere I go.

There were some beautiful mushrooms and fungi growing here and there along the trail, too.

On my way back to the information kiosk and the trail back up to the parking lot, I rounded a bend in the trail, and I'm not sure who was more startled... or the deer.  

The deer didn't seem to mind me after the initial surprise.  She continued to munch on the grass and slowly walk ahead of me down the trail. 

Trip stats from the Garmin.
(2.7 miles walked, 1 hour moving, 42 min stopped)

It was a very enjoyable walk through the nature reserve, so I was in no hurry.  By the time I got back to my car it was well after 1 p.m. and I hadn't had lunch yet.  There isn't much between there and Silverdale except for my new favorite restaurant on the peninsula - Barbie's Cafe in Seabeck, so it was an easy decision to stop there for some of their kickin' crab chowder (crab and corn chowder with jalapenos) for lunch on my way back.